In September of 1991 the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Japan MIDI Standards Committee (JMSC) created the beginning of a new era in MIDI technology, by adopting the General MIDI System Level 1, referred to as GM or GM1. The specification is designed to provide a minimum level of performance compatibility among MIDI instruments, and has helped pave the way for MIDI in the growing consumer and multimedia markets.

The specification imposes a number of requirements on compliant sound generating devices (keyboard, sound module, sound card, IC, software program or other product), including that:

  • A minimum of either 24 fully dynamically allocated voices are available simultaneously for both melodic and percussive sounds, or 16 dynamically allocated voices are available for melody plus 8 for percussion
  • All 16 MIDI Channels are supported, each capable of playing a variable number of voices (polyphony) or a different instrument (sound/patch/timbre)
  • A minimum of 16 simultaneous and different timbres playing various instruments are supported as well as a minimum of 128 preset instruments (MIDI program numbers) conforming to the GM1 Instrument Patch Map and 47 percussion sounds which conform to the GM1 Percussion Key Map.

When MIDI first evolved it allowed musicians to piece together musical arrangements using whatever MIDI instruments they had. But when it came to playing the files on other synthesisers, there was no guarantee that it would sound the same, because different instrument manufacturers may have assigned instruments to different program numbers: what might have been a piano on the original synthesiser may play back as a trumpet on another. General MIDI compliant modules now allow music to be produced and played back regardless of manufacturer or product.

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